The New York Knicks finally found a franchise cornerstone they can really build around when they stumbled upon the unicorn known as Kristaps Porzingis, but are they putting him in a position to succeed?
You can see it right away. Kristaps Porzingis has it.
No human standing at 7’3″ should be able to move as fluidly as KP does, move laterally as swiftly as he does, or glide majestically down the court as fast as he does. When you couple his length and athleticism with his gatling gun-like release, the sky is truly the limit — the sentiment is not just hyperbole.
So far this season, however, one has to question whether or not the New York Knicks are taking the right approach in developing their special unicorn.
Yes, it’s early (really early), but there have been simply way too many elongated occasions where Porzingis is marginalized in the Knicks’ scheme — offensively and defensively — to the point where he goes unnoticed for long stretches of a game.
He still shows flashes of his breathtaking talent — crossing up opposing bigs with a right-to-left crossover, effortlessly stroking 25-foot threes, or stopping-and-popping for a knee-buckling pull-up jumper — but more often than not, Porzingis is jostling down low in a congested paint, or spotting up in a sedentary state while watching Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony “do their thing.”
With the skills and sheer talent of a Kristaps, contemporary wisdom tells us his inside-outside repertoire would be best served at the 5 in a spread pick-and-roll/pop offense. His shooting will create the stress-bending gravity a modern offense needs, while his ability to pump-fake and put the ball on the deck gives an unpredictable element most teams can only dream of from their plodding bigs.
Defensively, as a center, it unearths Porzingis to fully utilize his mind-numbing length. Already an elite rim protector, where opponents shot 9.7 percent worse from six-feet-and-in with KP patrolling the paint last season, he shouldn’t be put in a compromising position where he is out on the perimeter chasing stretch-4s.
The Knicks, though, are still hell bent on making a “splash,” signing and acquiring marquee-named players who don’t necessarily fit coherently. With the offseason acquisitions of former Chicago Bulls, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, the Knicks essentially and prematurely shoe-horned Porzingis at the power forward position, while pairing him with a point guard who is looking solely to attack the rim full-throttle without much recourse, as opposed to pitching it back to his wide open pop man.
And with incumbent star Carmelo Anthony, a player who would rather isolate and bully his way to the basket as well, opportunities are few and far in between for Porzingis.
“They’ve got to do a better job of getting him the ball when he’s got a mismatch,” head coach Jeff Hornacek admitted to ESPN’s Ian Begley after the Knicks fell to 1-3 in a 19-point loss to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.
“There were several times where he’s in the area on a smaller guy and we’re not necessarily looking for him. We’re looking for the next thing. We’ve got to find that mismatch, throw it up there, let him gather the ball and make a play on that.”
The only player capable and willing to facilitate for Porzingis is perhaps Brandon Jennings, but the two rarely share the court with one another, playing a grand total of 37 minutes beside each other thus far, per NBA.com.
Simply put, playing Porzingis alongside two ball-dominant penetrators who may or may not have overzealous opinions of themselves at this point in their respective careers, not to mention a spacing-challenged seven-footer playing on one leg, is not necessarily promoting the growth and potential of their most valuable asset.
The Knicks have finally been blessed by the basketball gods after years of impunity. But will their management, or lack thereof, once again hamper the franchise and stunt the Kristaps Porzingis storybook in the making?